Biblical Theology in 2 Samuel 10

2 Samuel 10, which I’m preaching on this weekend, is an interesting chapter. It gives the account of David reaching out with kindness (Hebrew hesed) to a gentile King, Hunan the Ammonite. Hunan however does not reciprocate the kindness and severely humiliates David’s messengers, sending them home with half their beards shaved and no pants on. David then sends his general, Joab, to beat up on the Ammonites and their guns for hire – the Arameans.

I’m convinced that David’s attempt to show kindness to Hunan is Godly, even though it is unsuccessful. The question is, what to do with this in terms of Biblical theology? On the one hand, you could see David as exemplary of the Lord’s King, offering grace to all, even the gentiles, and justly dealing with those who reject him. As such Jesus perfectly fulfills the model that David sets up of the King who brings grace for all, but judges those who don’t respond to him.

On the other hand, you could argue that David’s unsuccessful attempt to show grace to the gentiles is a sign of his limitations and a hint that something more is needed. With this approach, Jesus becomes the solution to the problem of gentile rejection. Jesus is the King who succesfully brings grace to the gentiles where David and all other Kings had failed.

So What do you think – Is David a positive example of grace and judgment, or a frustrated example of grace for all, even including the gentiles.

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14 Responses to Biblical Theology in 2 Samuel 10

  1. simone r. says:

    I go with the first.

  2. Nathan says:

    I’m not so keen to affirm David’s actions. I reckon he acts rightly (potentially) in the initial act of kindness, but wrongly in how quickly he turns from mercy to judgment.

    I think Matthew 23’s Parable of the Tenants shows God’s patient distribution of grace – sure the tenants cop it in the end. But David goes from wanting to show kindness to pretty much annihilating the enemy’s army because a few of his men lost a bit of face.

    The other question is what he was doing reaching out to the Ammonites anyway? They haven’t exactly been model friends of Israel (cf 1 Samuel 11, Judges 10-11)…

  3. Anthony Douglas says:

    Have you been reading Robert Alter for this series? He has lots of intriguing ideas…

    Here, the thing that caught my attention is his observation that Hadadezer (v. 16) is active when he’d been dealt with back in ch. 8 – so the chronology has been shuffled for some reason. I suspect it’s because this is the first instance we have of David the delegating king, rather than David who leads his troops to victory. The next instance, of course, is fairly clearly a disappointment.

    So I’m suspicious. I think the narrator wants us to at the very least harbour doubts about whether David’s fallen into Sauline behaviour (never used that word, but I think I like it. Almost a salty taste!). Being friends with Nahash can’t be a good look either.

    Combined with the detachment from the battle, I think David’s portrayed as becoming a manipulator rather than the godly warrior. Put me down for ‘none of the above’!

  4. apricho says:

    Can’t go with the negative reading of David here. I just don’t think hesed is used in a negative way, either in Samuel or in the rest of the Bible. If you can find anywhere then I’ll reassess. Admitedly friendship with Nahash/Hunan is a bit of a surprise. But I think it’s OK because it is someone outside of Israel rather than a nation from inside Israel.

    I agree that there are hints of David slipping on the military front, especially with Joab given such a prominent role in pointing people to the covenant. But I think that’s only a small hint of what is to come rather than the dominant theme of the chapter. David does seem to play a genuine role at the end of the battle.

    As to whether David is to quick to judge. I think the despicable nature of Hunan’s treatment of the messengers is essentially a declaration of war, and David really has no choice but to respond.

    I guess the question is also raised – if you read chapter 10 negatively, what about chapter 9? Maybe David is just keeping Mephibosheth close so he can control him, rather than genuinely showing him kindness. That is not how I read the narrative though.

  5. Jon says:

    How about this instead? The key to reading the books of Samuel is in 1 Samuel Chapter 8. The Israelites ask Samuel for a king. Samuel is unhappy about this but asks the Lord, who says “it’s not you they have rejected as their king, but me” (v7). Then Samuel warns them about how a king will behave – every part of his description can be applied to David. This means that even though at times the author seems to be describing David positively (David at least ties to follow God) the basic orientation is that the kingship is itself a rejection of God, so ultimately no good will come of it. It’s not a personal problem with David, it’s a structural one. David is acting like kings do – if they let other kings insult them like Hunan does, then everyone will know they’re weak and they’ll be overthrown, and replaced by a tougher more ruthless king. The same applies to us here and now – we have a Prime Minister who professes Christianity but how free is he to act like a Christian?

    • apricho says:

      Thanks for the thoughts Jon. I don’t think I read 1 Samuel 8 quite as negatively as you. I see the problem being the request for a king ‘ like the other nations’, not just the request for a king itself. Saul is then the King like the nations have, while David is the king after Gods own heart.

      This means that I think we can read some things about David as a genuinely positive, not just as making the best of a bad situation.

      In this particular case I actually think David is perfectly justified in going to war. If you look carefully at the narrative, not only do the ammonites disgrace Davids messengers, they actually hire an army and head out for war before David makes any aggressive move at all.

      So to sum up, david definitely had his flaws, but I don’t think they’re fundamental to his role as King, and in this situation I actually think he’s being Godly.

      • Jon says:

        The main reason I don’t see it that way is that 1 Sam 8 precedes Saul’s selection as king. The discussion is about kings in general and the whole process of wanting a king, not about any king in particular. “As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.” It’s part of the entire Old Testament narrative of Israel rejecting God.

        • apricho says:

          Yes, but what is the rejection? is it asking for a king itself, or is it asking for a King ‘like the other nations’? Given that Deuteronomy has a place for a King embedded in the law, I take it that the request for a King is not wrong in and of itself, it’s the motivation in asking and the type of King that is looked for that is wrong.

          Also there is the pointed statements in judges about there being ‘no King in Israel and everyone doing what is write in their own eyes’ which seem to be positive about the need for a king.

          Surely if God had not wanted the Israelites to have a king at all he would have put an end to the whole experiment, rather than promising David an everlasting dynasty.

          • Jon says:

            God shows himself to be adaptable. He doesn’t go back to his earlier plan, he makes the best of the current situation – hence giving them David after Saul. Re the “king like the other nations” I think you’re making a distinction that isn’t there. They want a king, just like the other nations have kings, instead of their fuzzy theocratic system. But as always, this does become a discussion about the nature of the Bible. There are a number of different threads and viewpoints represented. For instance, Chronicles is more “royalist” than Samuel – a lot of the negative stories about David are edited out and a different spin is put on others (like, for instance, the building of the temple). So the Bible as a whole is not as anti-royalist as my comments on Samuel make out. But if you see Jesus as the culmination of the Davidic line, then you look at David’s behaviour in the light of Jesus’, you have to see that the failings are not superficial, they are quite fundamental to the whole story.

  6. Nathan says:

    Why did it take David long enough for Mephibosheth to have a child before he remembered him? He appears, and is crippled, in chapter 4. Why is David showing him kindness after such a gap? Was he worried a cripple would challenge him for the throne before he was set there comfortably?

    • apricho says:

      Do you think the son is mentioned to emphasize how long it had taken David to act, or to show that he’s kind to Mephibosheth even though he has a son who could challenge for the throne?

      I think you could possibly mount an argument that David is misdirected in his kindness in 2 Sam 9-10, but I really don’t think there is a strong argument that David isn’t kind enough.

      • Jon says:

        The chronology of these stories is hazy enough that we probably aren’t supposed to read much into it. The mention of the incident where Mephibosheth is crippled is in parentheses in Ch 4 and refers to an event at least seven years earlier. Then after that David still has to conquer Jerusalem. The thing that mitigates David’s kindness is that Mephibosheth is Jonathan’s son, and Jonathan was David’s best friend and supporter in Saul’s court – David says at the start of Chapter 9 that he wants to show someone kindness “for Jonathan’s sake”. David is kind to his friends and ruthless to his enemies.

        • apricho says:

          mmm, just not convinced that is a really fair reading of David. Saul is his enemy and he gives up numerous opportunities to kill him. I’m not trying to say that David has no flaws, or that he cannot be a political animal. I just think his actions in these chapters are presented as Godly, in the light of the fact that God has just shown ‘hesed’ to him in 2 Samuel 7 and now he is showing ‘hesed’ to others.

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